Working Paper 2018-02

Eating for Taste and Eating for Change: Ethical Consumption as a High Status Practice

Emily Huddart Kennedy, Washington State University

Shyon Baumann, University of Toronto

Josée Johnston, University of Toronto

UT Sociology Working Paper No. 2018-02

March 2018

Keywords: cultural capital, food, ethical consumption

Full Article


Under what conditions is ethical consumption a high status consumption practice? Using unique food consumption survey data on both aesthetic dispositions and ethical consumption, we investigate how these orientations to food are related. Existing research points to two relatively high cultural capital consumer identities: the ‘foodie’, who defines good taste through ‘authentic’ aesthetic standards and the ‘ethical consumer’, whose consumption is driven by moral principles. However, ethical consumption can also be practiced in inexpensive and subcultural ways that may not conform to dominant status hierarchies (e.g., freeganism, food swaps, etc.). In order to better understand the complex cultural terrain of high-status consumption, we investigate how socioeconomic status (SES) is related to foodie and ethical consumer practices and preferences. Using a k-means cluster analysis of intercept survey data from food shoppers in Toronto, we identify four distinct clusters that represent foodies, ethical consumers, and ethical foodies. Through multinomial logistic regression we find that while high SES consumers can be foodies or ethical food consumers, the highest status consumers prioritize both ethical and foodie consumer preferences. Further, we find that respondents’ reported shopping locations and meat consumption corroborate the results of the regression analyses. The highest status consumers eat in a way that conveys both culinary authenticity and morality. That is, ethical consumption can signal high status when it is simultaneously practiced with an aesthetic disposition. These results are an important addition to literature that examines how food consumption repertoires can produce and reinforce classed boundaries.

The data collection for this project was funded by an Early Researcher Award (ERA08-05-060) from the Ontario Ministry of Research to Josée Johnston.